Archive for the ‘new feature’ Category

Friday, March 14th, 2008

Change us! It’s LibraryThing Zen Garden.

Introducing LibaryThing Zen Garden!

Have you heard of CSS Zen Garden? It’s a legendary website (and popular book) devoted to showing the “power of CSS.” Every page, from the home page to the the military “Zen Army” to the charming old-fashioned movie theater stage set, has the same content, but has been “styled” differently with CSS. For many web developers, the first time they saw CSS Zen Garden was like an effective Zen koan—instant enlightment!

Best of all, most of the designs were submitted by regular web developers, not the site’s developers.

Well, why not let LibraryThing members change the site? Members have been agitating for a design redo for some time now. We’ve posted files for people to play with. Well, why not let them play with the site in real-time? We have been fooling with some designs too. Why not show them off?

Well, step on over to the LibraryThing Zen Garden. You can:

  • Sample different styles.
  • Set your preferred style and browse around the site with it.
  • Create your own styles. Every design you make is available for others to look at.

As a demo, I set five styles under my name:

  • timspalding-1. This is a design Abby, Sonya and I played with one afternoon. Set this to your style and browse around. The subnav on the profile page is different. You’ll also notice the tabs are slightly curved on some browsers.
  • timspalding-2. LibraryThing member existanai sent a few dozen alternate logos. Here’s one. Note the CSS to hide the normal image and use a background image.
  • timspalding-3. Another existanai logo.
  • timspalding-4. Don’t like the logo—kill it!
  • timspalding-5. Screwing things up is funny! But I’ve done it, so it’s not funny anymore. Bonus points for having a browser that displays the BLINK tag.*

Show us what you can do? We want comments on the designs we create, but we really want to see what members want. You don’t need to make a complete design. If you can change a few characters, you can show us a new background color.

I’ve decided not to award any prizes or hold any votes. Design is a very personal thing, and I don’t want anyone feeling left out. All ideas are good, even if they only demonstrate the terribleness of a particular style. Needless to say, if we end up using ideas from your design, we’ll shower you with praise and free memberships.

I’ve made a group for people to talk about designs, swap bits of CSS and so forth. It’s called Redesign LibraryThing.

Incidentally, has anyone ever heard of a site doing this?

Some weeds:

  • I am not a CSS true believer. I use tables for positioning more than I ought. I use <b> when I should use <em>. I torture kittens for fun. Chris is better, but not without sin. This limits what you can do somewhat.
  • Ones with changed logos will not work in IE6. This is about PNG24 transparency, if that means anything to you.
  • The easiest way to work on a design is to modify one of ours. timspalding-1 has comments in it.
  • The CSS you write is added onto our—very complex—CSS. (The main files are this and this, but we wish it were always so simple.) Something like Firebug will come in handy when editing
  • Your default style will not carry throughout the site. Some pages, like catalog, require special tweaks. Other pages just don’t have the code that adds custom CSS.

*Update: Incidentally, I also anticipated that someone would replace the logo with that of a competitor. Ha ha. :)

Labels: new feature, openness

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Introducing LibraryThing Local

Today we* unveil a major new section of the site, LibraryThing Local.

What is it? LibraryThing Local is a gateway to thousands of local bookstores, libraries and book festivals—and to all the author readings, signings, discussions and other events they host. It is our attempt to accomplish what hasn’t happened yet—the effective linking of the online and offline book worlds. Books still don’t fully “work” online; this is a step toward mending them.

LibraryThing Local is a handy reference, but it’s also interactive. You can show off your favorite bookstores and libraries (eg., mine include the Harvard Bookstore, Shakespeare and Company and the Boston Athenaeum) and keep track of interesting events. Then you can find out who else loves the places you do, and who else is going to events. You can also find local members, write comments about the places you love and more.

LibraryThing members rock. LibraryThing Local just opened, but for the past week we’ve let a few members in to check it out and add venues.** They went crazy!

Together, about two-dozen members added over 2,600 venues. The coverage is spotty, covering the members personal interests. So, Paris is a literary desert, but Chicago and Antwerp are a mess of little green and blue dots, and even frosty Juneau (pictured right) is done.*** LibraryThing Local would be boring without content, so everone owes a debt of gratitude to members like SilentInAWay (400), alibrarian (351), christiguc (302), Talbin (242), SqueakyChu (240), boekerij (217) and others for kicking things off so well.

This kind of passion give us hope that LibraryThing Local will swiftly become the web’s best, most complete source for finding bookstores and library—and for the events they throw. Unfortunately, we only got events working yesterday, so there are only 200 so far. Something to work on?

Authors! Publishers! Libraries! Bookstores! Right now, everyone can add events. But they won’t necessarily get to you, so go ahead and add your venues and events. We are experimenting with the concept of “claiming” a venue, so that a bookstore of library can assert control over its basic factual information. (You don’t control the comment wall, of course.) For now, you need to email us. Go to a venue for more details.

Beta, Forevah. LibraryThing Local is not “done.” It’s missing key features, like RSS. And it has a few bugs. For good or ill, that’s how we work around here.

The main planned improvements are:

  • RSS Feeds
  • Fine-grained privacy settings
  • Author and work integration
  • Enhanced features for bookstores and libraries that take part
  • More stats, like the most interesting events

I’ve started two discussion threads:

Needless to say, I can’t wait to see what members think of it. We’ll do our best to make it as good as we can.

Use BookTour! (We do not.) LibraryThing Local was something I’ve wanted to do since visiting Ireland a year ago and not knowing where the bookstores were. But I didn’t get serious about the idea until approached by BookTour.

BookTour is a startup founded by Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail and the upcoming Free. Chris’ idea was to make a central site to collect information about authors on tour.

LibraryThing agreed to be BookTour’s first partnership. But along the way we ran into difficulties. We wanted strong venue information, so members could show off their favorite bookstores and libraries. BookTour is focused on the events more than venues, which include many duplicates. Eventually it became clear to me we were after different things, so we parted ways.

Although LibraryThing Local is now doing some of the same things, I hope blog readers will check out BookTour. I expect them to be adopted by other book-related sites and, at present, their data is more copious than ours. Certainly, no author should tour without first adding all their events there, and they have a very handy Excel-based upload option that will appeal to publicists with large numbers of events.


* Chris (conceptDawg), whose favorite bookstores include Bienvielle Books, built much of LibraryThing Local. Send praise his way!
**We released LibrayThing Local to a private but non-exclusive beta group two weeks ago. Later, after deciding not to use others site’s data (see above), we let members add their own venues, and later events.
***Best of all the Alaskan-adder, alibrarian, has no connection to Alaska whatsoever. He just got tired adding every library in New York City.

Labels: authors, book world, bookstores, librarything local, new feature, publicists, publishers

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

New feature: “Series”

Chris and I have added “series” to our Common Knowledge feature, creating a way to deal with book series like the Chronicles of Narnia, The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization or the Bluffer’s Guides.

We’ve started off simple:

  • A page for every series, with covers and titles.
  • A simple method of ordering works within a series.
  • A series-level tag cloud.
  • A mechanism for showing series overlap, as between the Chronicles of Narnia in publication and chronological order.

There’s a lot more we could potentially do. But this is just the sort of feature that should develop over time, with lots of input from users. Each series page has a short section on some of the important issues, and I’ve set up a Talk post for discussion.

I’ve also added fields for a work’s “Canonical Title” and “Canonical Author.” As of now, the values of these fields do not affect work or author titles. They will soon.

Labels: common knowledge, new feature, series

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

Fifteen new languages

The non-English LibraryThings are flourishing. Every day we move closer to the dream of a truly international community of book lovers—contributing to the community even when we don’t speak the same language.* Good sources have been critical. We’re going release a flurry of Spanish ones on Monday, and hundreds more in many languages are forthcoming soon. Equally important has been all the effort members have put into the translations. Participation has been really astounding—202 members have made at least 20 edits each. A few languages have been shouldered by a single member—moriarty with Albanian or avitkauskas with Lithuanian—but most have been a group endeavor.

At least a dozen languages are ready for general use. It’s time to introduce some more!

By and large, the languages above correspond to languages we hope to support with one or more sources. In some cases, as Armenian, we haven’t found a source yet, but we’re hopeful. In some cases, as with Korean, we haven’t yet figured out how to make our source work, but we haven’t exhausted our options. As always, we need help finding open Z39.50 connections.

PS: Don’t forget Basque. It’s still almost untranslated. We’ll be releasing a largely Basque-language library on Monday too.

*Notably, LibraryThing’s work system means that when it comes to a book that crosses boundaries, everyone counts. That is, if Albanian readers of Heinlein also enjoy Alfred Bester, that will count when it comes time to generate recommendations. Speaking of which, we have a site-wide re-think of recommendations going on. So, expect bumps.

Labels: languages, new feature, new langauges

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

12 fonti italiane! (12 Italian sources!)

I have been cataloging my Italian books manually for months, but for the joy of all Italian readers, this is finally over! We’ve just added 12 new Italian sources!

It’s really no fun at all to enter book data field by field for hundreds of books, so I am sure all Italian Thingamabrarians will love the new sources! I’m personally really looking forward to cataloging books by scanning the ISBNs with my lovely CueCat!

Anyway, this is a good news for all users: among the 12 new sources there’s the Vatican Library, which owns books in a number of languages, and the European University Institute Library in Florence, with a lot of books on social sciences and European studies in English.

Now, I know this is an English speaking blog, but I’m sure (well, I hope!) Tim and Abby wouldn’t mind some Italian … so, if you wanna read further and you’re not Italian, well, Babelfish is just one click away!

Da quando poco più di un anno fa LibraryThing è stato tradotto in italiano (e in più di 20 altre lingue) dagli utenti di LibraryThing (la pagina traduzioni è qui, se vuoi dare il tuo contributo!), il numero di utenti italiani è cresciuto insieme alle lamentele per la mancanza di una fonte di catalogazione ;-)

Biblioteche e non solo. Finalmente siamo in grado di aggiungere non una, ma ben 12 nuove fonti di catalogazione! Oltre a 11 biblioteche* abbiamo aggiunto anche una libreria online di Roma, DEAstore, perfetta per libri di recente pubblicazione. Non offre gli stessi dati delle biblioteche, ma ha delle copertine fantastiche!

Gruppi.
LibraryThing in inglese (e in alcune altre lingue) ha centinaia di gruppi di discussione molto attivi. I gruppi italiani non sono molto vivaci**, ma forse con qualche utente un più, possiamo rianimarli. Già, ma dove li troviamo altri utenti italiani? Ecco un piccolo incentivo!

Invita i tuoi amici e ricevi un account gratuito per te e per un tuo amico! Dal proprio profilo è possibile invitare i propri amici su LibraryThing. Non perdere tempo, regaliamo un account annuale per te e per un amico ai primi 15 che invitano un amico che cataloga almeno 15 libri!***
Non sei riuscito a convincere nessuno?! Prova a mostrare la visita guidata a LibraryThing.

Ma da quando Tim ha imparato l’italiano?! Beh, Tim non ha imparato l’italiano ;-) Da alcuni mesi LibraryThing ha un italiano nel suo team. Domande, dubbi, bugs? Scrivetemi! Nel frattempo, buona catalogazione a tutti!


* A parte il catalogo delle biblioteche Liguri, le altre nuove fonti sono biblioteche universitarie o di centri di ricerca. Se qualcuno conosce biblioteche italiane che supportano il formato Z39.50, possiamo cercare di aggiungerle. Scrivetemi!
** Adesso che abbiamo delle fonti di catalogazione, di cosa parleremo nei gruppi?!
*** Mandate il nome del vostro account e dell’account del vostro amico a giovannilibrarything.com

Photo credit: “Italian flag flying on top of Monte Sighignola photo by Flikr user ovuigner, used under a CC-Attribution license.

Labels: italy, new feature, new libraries

Monday, December 10th, 2007

SantaThing: Secret Santas for LibraryThing!

UPDATE: We just (9pm) hit 100 Secret Santas, and a lot of interesting comments on them. Some users are confused about the money. The situation is this. When you sign up, you pay $25. When you get someone you pick out up to $20 worth of books, and tell us what they are—by ISBN presumably. We buy the gifts and pay the shipping. I suspect we’ll make or lose about $1 per Santa. This is hardly about the money.

It had to happen and here it is: SantaThing!

SantaThing is Secret Santa for LibraryThing members.

The idea is simple. Pay $25. You play Santa to a random LibraryThing member, and find them up $20 worth of books, based on their library or a short description. Someone else does the same to you. LibraryThing orders the books and pays the shipping, so no addresses are exchanged and no members are stalked!

Now, this isn’t just for you. You can also go in for someone you know—a relative or a friend. Describe their library a bit and someone will find them the perfect present. And you can become a Santa as many times as you like. So, for example, I entered myself and my wife. Heck, I might outsource all my Christmas buying to the LibraryThing community! :)

Lastly, even if you don’t want to be a Santa, you can help by suggesting books for others.

Crucial dates. This is going to end very soon.

  • Thursday, 12 Noon Eastern. Santa-signup ends. Secret Santas are picked.
  • Friday, 10pm Eastern. Submit gifts to LibraryThing. LibraryThing buys everything. According to Amazon, if it’s ordered before Tuesday it will make it by December 24.

Back story. I wanted to do this last year, but couldn’t get it out in time. This year I aimed low. You’ll notice it’s very basic. (You can make suggestions, but you can’t delete past suggestions, use touchstones, etc.) But, what the heck? It’s going to be gone in a week—it’s good enough!

Addendum: I haven’t even blogged it yet, and one user has already signed up. The “tastes” section was filled out as follows:

“Please refrain from choosing anything involving wizards, elves, dragons, swords, etc… or anything Oprah demands be read.”

Labels: new feature, santathing, secret santa

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

Better at what we do best

We’ve introduced a series of improvements to LibraryThing’s core strength—high-quality book cataloging.

Detail pages and edit pages. We’re replaced the previous detail and edit pages with more attractive and functional ones. That’s an edit page over on the right. For a detail page, check out my copy of my the obscure-but-wonderful*, Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army.

Employing a simple tabbed interface, the new detail pages cover both the “work” level and the individual book level. The latter has been sorely lacking.

Multiple authors, roles. When it comes to cataloging our weakest point was always our handling of “secondary” authors—illustrators, translators, editors and the like. Doing them better has been one of the most insistent requests.

We’ve got a real system now. Books added today come with secondary authors and author roles built in. We’ve set down a small number of preset “roles,” such as Editor, Translator, Photographer and so forth—based on Amazon’s preset roles—but all roles are editable. In time, these roles will be spread throughout the system, so that the author page for someone like Steven King will include not only his own works, but collections he appears in. Translators in particular will finally get their due.

For now, enhanced author and role information is available only for newly-added books. As the system is firmed-up we will begin allowing members to “upgrade” existing records, with multiple authors as well as other cataloging enhancements.

New fields. So far, we’re releasing only two new fields. The first is for the number of copies, in case, like I, you have 500 copies of your wife’s novel, resisting relocation in the foyer. The second is the much-anticipated “private comments” field. Go ahead, pour your hearts out. The field is only viewable when you are signed in.

We’re starting with two, but we have many more waiting in the wings, including fields for edition, publisher, place of publication, binding, physical size and weight, list price—even OCLC number and ISSN. Casey and I spent a lot of time figuring out what more we can squeeze from library data, and from Amazon too. (Did you know, for example, that all library data records declare whether or not they are a Festschrift, but there is no standard way of indicating a CD?)

New Libraries. We’ve been unveiling libraries slowly. By New Years, however, we will have almost 700 libraries. Including among these will be many outside of English-speaking countries, and including books in non-Latin scripts, such as Arabic, Korean and Armenian. Library systems are notoriously twitchy with non-Latin data, and between LT employees we cover nothing beyond Greek. If you’re interested in helping us test these systems, we’d love to hear it.

New Languages. LibraryThing is already available in more than a dozen languages. We’re about to release sixteen more. They are:

Afrikaans, Arabic, Armenian, Chinese (simplified), Chinese (traditional), Farsi, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Macedonian, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Tagalog, Urdu

Some of our existing translations have done well—German, Dutch, Welsh—while others—Basque, Latvian—have languished. I think I see now that the key ingredient is a small cadre of zealots willing to do enough initial work that subsequent, interested but less-daring helpers can carry thing the rest of the way. If you’re interested in helping out on one of these languages, let us know. We’ll give you a special key in.

MARCThing. Underneath many of our improvements is an exciting new package we’re calling MARCThing. Developed by our own Casey Durfee, MARCThing is a complete, self-contained and largely idiot-proof way to access and parse library data. We’re going to making it available for non-commercial use and extension. We expect lots of interesting things to come of it.

I’ve asked Casey to write up a post on MARCThing over on the Thingology blog. It’ll be there in a sec. Check it out.

Talk about it. Yesterday was Götterdämmerung for everything new. So much changed so completely that a lot ended up broken. For that we apologize. Chris and I are very grateful for the flood of bug reports, suggestions, criticisms and encouragement. That thread is threatening to hit 200 posts, so I’m starting a new thread for lingering issues (there are a few) and other topics related to this blog post. Of course, you can also comment on this post. Blog posts are a lousy place for bugs, but they’re a great place for more detailed questions, disagreements and so forth.

Future steps. In the next week we’ll be unveiling the other new fields, and building a “data-enhancement” option for older records. After that, the path is clear for collections. (But don’t shoot me if I slip a Secret-Santa feature in this week.)

Final thoughts. We’ve undertaken to improve this aspect of the site despite some contrary advice—that most people don’t care about getting the data right, and that we need to focus on the purely social parts of the site. After all, we’re already the best at this side, so why spend time and money to get better?

Although, with cataloging improved, we intend to turn our attention to better UI—such as collections—and to improved social features, we feel that LibraryThing isn’t MySpace—that content and conversation are inextricably linked. As Tim O’Reilly recently put it in an interview, LibraryThing is one of a number of sites that provide different, interesting takes on the “social graph.” You don’t get to interesting relationships around books without making the book-side as powerful and flexible as can be.


*And, on LibraryThing, insanely over-promoted!

Labels: cataloging, new feature, new libraries, privacy

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

Which of your authors are on LibraryThing?

I’d added a feature to show you which of your authors—the authors of the books in your library—are also LibraryThing members. We call them LibraryThing Authors.

The impetus was an unfortunate event. Two LibraryThing Authors went hog-wild “friending” members. Some members were annoyed, and I stepped into create an upper limit of requests and comments per day (it’s 70). But it did raise the fact that there was no adequate way for LibraryThing authors to connect with their readers.

LibraryThing Authors? If you don’t know, LibraryThing Authors are authors who are members of LibraryThing and have put some or all of their personal books onto the site.

Wouldn’t it be great to see what your favorite authors were reading? Well, that’s the idea, and, so far, it’s been quite a draw. We have 667 authors so far. We hope this makes it even more attractive for all concerned.

Labels: authors, LT author, new feature

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

28 Australian libraries / The Book Show

UPDATED UPDATE: ABC’s The Book Show aired the interview. It was fun to do. And today (Dec. 5 over there) we got a—admittedly syndicated—mention in Australia’s national newspaper The Australian. Go Australia!


We’ve jumped from 2 to 28 Australian libraries. This should make it a lot easier for Australians to add books to LibraryThing.

In related news, I’m appearing on Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s The Book Show, at 10am today (Nov. 22 in Australia), to talk about LibraryThing. The show is repeated at midnight. You can listen in from their shows page or with their podcast.

The Book Show. The Book Show is a DAILY show! I listened to a half-dozen of them to prepare. I enjoyed the one on the PR industry, with Bob Burton (Nov. 19), the one on marginialia (Oct. 19). They did LT Early Reviewer‘s author Amy Bloom on October 9.

Libraries. The libraries include state libraries from Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales and universities like Canberra, Tasmania, Sydney, Flinder’s University and Charles Darwin University. There are also some special collections, like the Australian Defence Force Academy and the Australian Graduate School of Management. And of course we still have the National Library of Australia and the Australian National University.

The new Australian libraries raises our total to 97. Over the coming weeks it’s going to go much higher. But we figured it would be fun to unleash them in groups. Also, the new libraries introduce a host of new challenges, including new standards, like UNIMARC, and non-Latin character sets, and we wanted to make sure we got everything right.

Casey will go into much greater detail about the new libraries soon. But you should also see a substantial increase in cataloging quality, particularly with character sets. At first, this will just be for newly-added books, but we’ll make an effort to improve older records too. We also have a new “author authors” and “roles” system. We were going to unveil it today, but a couple of minor bugs kept us from it. We’ll get that out tomorrow.

Wish me luck on the radio. From listening to old ones, I determined that the show is very much up my alley, but very relaxed. I’m not. Maybe I should have a whiskey or two before I go on.


The photo above come from the one to the left, this photo, by Johan Larson. It was the first commercially-usable and remixable Flickr result for “Australian flag.”

Unfortunately, LibraryThing’s Australian—Tasmanian!—systems guy, John Dalton (Felius), was unavailable for under-flag exuberance. The individual in question is almost certainly not excited about LibraryThing’s new libraries. But, if he has any interest, how about a free account?

Labels: australia, new feature, new libraries

Friday, October 12th, 2007

Common Knowledge explodes

It’s been 48 hours since we introduced Common Knowledge, our “social cataloging” initiative and it’s been a HUGE success.*

Six-hundred and fifty members have contributed an edit, making 17,437 edits total (adding multiple characters, for example, counted as a single edit). Check out the changelog and watch it happen.

It’s our job to support what you’re doing. Apart from obsessively adding facts ourselves–Chris and I both made the top 20 contributors!–Chris has been working on UI improvements, and we’ve both been very active discussing it, bugs, new fields, the gender issue and other topics. There’s a lot to do.

More statistics. The top contributor was shortride with an astonishing 1,383 edits. English got the lion share of edits, with second-place German coming in at 441 edits. (We’re still working on how to show information from other languages.)

Top contributors Top fields
Shortride 1383 Awards and honors 4412
MikeBriggs 614 Character name 3398
fleela 458 Gender 2297
realSandy 383 Important places 2255
PhoenixTerran 350 Places of residence 1587
tardis 336 Birthdate 1197
sabreuse 311 Education 869
VictoriaPL 301 Date of death 552
tripleblessings 291 Organizations 430
AnnaClaire 277 Description 200
Rtrace 275 Disambiguation notice 116
andyl 247 Publisher’s editor 62
rorrison 242 Agent 60
timspalding 238
SqueakyChu 234
conceptDawg 228


*We’re pretty impressed by all the activity, especially considering it hasn’t been as blogged as much as some past features.** But I gave it a good push talking yesterday at the Ohio Library Council. (Come see me talk again today.) And something like this can only grow. APIs will be key.
**Tip of the hat, however, to Superpatron, Joshua M. Neff and Wicked Librarian.

Labels: common knowledge, new feature